THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

28 August 2018

Hazards when crossing the Atlantic in the early 19th Century

Charles Kingsley’s maternal grandfather, Nathan Lucas FLS, owned plantations in Barbados and Demerara.  Lucas left Liverpool in the Barton (Captain George Chalmers) on 4 January 1803.  She had two decks, three masts and displaced 212 tons.

Liverpool c13872-60The Port of Liverpool taken from the opposite side of the River Mersey. Drawn and engraved by William Daniell. G.7043 plate 39 Images Online

On 19 January, off the coast of Spain, he wrote in his journal: ‘At 5am a mountainous sea broke upon the Ship from head to stern, carried away our booms – one of our boats – stowed the other – all our stock washed overboard.  The ship was thrown on her beam ends, & did not right again! … she was entirely unmanageable, & could not wear round – but cut away the Mizen Mast, without any effect … we then cut away the main mast; & thanks to God she righted a little & we got her before the wind – immediately she was pooped, the windows all broken in, & the Cabin a sea of water.  As we had no masts, sails or boats, we did not think proper to put to Lisbon, fearful of being wrecked on a lee shore.  Madeira was out of the question & we kept on to Barbados … Got in a Jury Main Mast, made from the Derrick – we have no more spars, except foretop gallant mast & foretopsail yard – we are busy in making some from planks sawn and nailed together – busily employed in making sails, rope &c’.  The voyage to Barbados lasted 51 days. 

BridgetownBridgetown – engraving by Samuel Cope reproduced in West India Committee Circular Vol.XXVIII no.38, 6 May 1913

England and France were at war when Lucas returned on the Ash (master James Reed).  ‘A convoy for England being appointed, I determined to take the advantage of it, for safety of convoy, not expedition; for who has sufficient patience for the delays of a convoy! I have not, I candidly confess; but it is the lesser of two evils; & a prison would detain longer than a fleet.’  Twenty ships sailed from Barbados on 21 July, and eventually there were 176 ships escorted by HMS Courageous and HMS Venus. Lucas recorded six ships sinking:  “September 17th: We hear that the Betsey of Dublin foundered in the late gale, & all hands lost.  The unexpected & unfortunate War in which we are engaged, by keeping many tender vessels abroad, to wait convoy, instead of getting home as fast as loaden, & of course getting a winter’s passage, has been the cause of all the disasters in the fleet.”  The voyage to Bristol lasted 70 days.

On 18 August 1811 Lucas left Falmouth for Barbados on the Swallow (Captain Morphew). On 4 September they were boarded by the French frigate La Clorinde sailing from Madagascar to France. ‘It was soon rumoured that the Vessel would be given up to us, & the men &c exchanged on Cartel … They were in the greatest distress for provisions & water, though they had removed all from the Prizes they had made, but were now so low, they could not detain us.  Our private property was secured to us, tho’ they took away my Petite Neptune Francais.  Everything else was carried off, stores, rigging, sails, provisions &c … we really thought there were no provisions & water left; but we afterwards found some Pork & Potatoes.” They returned to Falmouth, where Lucas joined ‘the Express, Capt. Bullock, with Mails for the Windward Islands’, arriving in Barbados on 10 November. 

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive